House Republicans propose immigration measure

Legislation emphasizes beefed-up border security, detention of illegal immigrants and increased enforcement against employers who hire illegal workers.

A handful of House Republicans, including two committee ranking members, introduced sweeping border security legislation Tuesday to try to get in front of House Democrats on the issue and roll back political momentum for the Senate's comprehensive immigration package.

The GOP lawmakers argued that the Senate bill is unacceptable because it would give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. "It's as logical to give amnesty at the beginning of an immigration reform to stop illegal immigration as it would be to drill a hole in the bottom of a boat to let the water out," said Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., who chairs the Immigration Reform Caucus.

The legislation emphasizes beefed-up border security and detention of illegal immigrants, increased enforcement against employers who hire illegal workers and a revamped H-2A program for temporary agriculture workers. The legislation would require government agencies to coordinate their databases for verifying a person's identity, improve information-sharing practices, and validate identification documents. And it would require employers to participate in an "employment eligibility verification" program for their workers.

House Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., said he believes the Senate's immigration bill "would have severe repercussions for homeland security."

The lawmakers also introduced a resolution calling on the Bush administration to enforce border security and immigration laws already on the books.

"The bottom line is we are opposed to the amnesty bill in the Senate. We strongly oppose it," King said. "If current law were enforced, this problem could be very much brought under control. Certainly, it would be nowhere near the crisis proportions it's at today."

The lawmakers acknowledged the cost of coordinating databases kept by the Homeland Security Department, Justice Department, Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service.

"It is going to cost some money," said Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas. "Yet there's no choice, you have to have those databases up and running and manageable if you're going to have any kind of a worker [verification] program."

The legislation also requires the Homeland Security Department to develop a system that uses biometrics to verify when foreigners leave the country. The department has estimated that implementing such a system at land ports of entry would cost billions. House Democrats are working on their border security and immigration bills.

"Border security will be a top priority when the House begins debate on immigration reform," said a spokeswoman for Homeland Security Border Subcommittee Chairwoman Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., who is drafting the border security bill.